MARIETTA — Among Washington, Morgan, Monroe and Noble counties, there are 640.4 miles of pipeline running beneath the ground transmitting natural gas and hazardous liquids.
All of those pipeline miles are mapped and tracked by both the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the two regulating bodies in place to prevent damage, inspect activity, manage leaks, investigate incidents and enforce remediation.
In Noble County, 163.83 miles of gas transmission pipeline cross the county. One 24.6 mile-line exploded in Stock Township on Jan. 21 and left the area cordoned off while the safety of the parallel hazardous liquid line running the same route from Monroe County was also determined.
The cause of that gasline explosion is under investigation by the PUCO, with an anticipated report in the latter half of this year.
“That investigation on the ground has calmed down,” said Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
The U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration lists on its website different categories of causes for incidents like the one last month, ranging from natural events like land slips/soil movement to operator errors and aged infrastructure.
But the current investigation by the PUCO should determine the cause, and any remediation PUCO could enforce with the pipeline operator Enbridge.
As of the end of January, Enbridge released a statement stating that it continues its work on the two additional lines that parallel the impacted 30-inch Line 10 Texas Eastern Pipeline in Noble County which exploded on Jan. 21, injuring two people.
“Following a completion of a comprehensive integrity assessment, we have placed one of the other two pipelines (Line 25) in the right of way back into service,” wrote spokesman Michael Barnes in an statement. “We remain sensitive to our shippers’ responsibilities and will continue to keep them informed as work progresses and more definite timelines for returning Line 10 and the other parallel line (Line 15) to service become available. Enbridge is committed to bringing the affected section of its Texas Eastern pipeline system back to full operation, but will not until we confirm it is safe to do so.”
Meanwhile, in Monroe County another 154 .02 miles of gas transmission line run mostly east to west, though one follows the path of the Ohio River on the eastern border of the county. Additionally, a hazardous liquid pipeline runs east to west in the northern half of the county.
Hazardous liquid lines can carry crude oil, bitumen (the oil extracted from tar sands), gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, butane, condensate and other fuels from drilling areas to refineries and markets.
In Washington County, 56.26 miles of gas transmission pipeline run through mostly the western half of the county, mainly crossing the Barlow, Fleming and Barlett areas. Washington County also hosts 21.9 miles of hazardous liquid mileage stretching through the central and northern end of the county beginning east of Marietta but continuing into Morgan County.
And Morgan County has the least mileage of hazardous liquid pipeline, 9.06 miles, but also is home to 177.38 miles of gas transmission pipeline, the most in the four-county area.
“Ohio has 62,200 miles of pipelines,” said Chadsey. “Of that, 1,419 are gathering lines which takes the natural gas or crude oil from the wellhead to a transmission line.”
The four-county area has 26.47 percent of the total 2,419 miles of transmission lines in Ohio.
“Those are the large pipes, many of which are new, that move the gas to a processing plant,” said Chadsey.
“Then we have 58,362 miles of distribution lines like Dominion and Columbia that send the gas to your home.”
Incidents like January’s are not uncommon in Ohio, with 85 different incidents reported to the U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration since 2014.
But the costs to prevent versus remediate can vary in the oil and gas industry, according to Meribeth Masters, the regional and close team lead for BP Oil Pipeline Co.
“I always say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” she said, noting a cost of community or workers’ deaths can’t be quantified in a budget over repairs and capital expenditures.
But the factors in preventing a severe incident range from the age of the infrastructure under the ground to the type of pipeline material used, the kind of product moving through that line, how deep the line is in the ground and the weather and climate conditions.
“And we have to consider what development is going on in the area,” she said. “If there’s construction or soil disturbance nearby you may need to inspect sooner or more frequently than in an area that’s more stable.”
She gave an example of one line of BP’s that had to be moved because of the development of a rail line.
“Vibration from that railroad was going to be too great of a risk,” she said.
Those factors are best addressed through rigorous inspection programs, designed by engineers, she said.
“There’s not always a dollar threshold, and repairs or replacements can be paid for through different means,” Masters said. “Ultimately you have to get to the base of what are we trying to accomplish here, and how are you doing it? A short-term repair may in some cases cost more than just replacing the line, but is the intent to extend the lifespan or just make a small repair until that line is retired?”
Ohio Gas Association President Jimmy Stewart explained that another factor pipeline operators consider and ask for the public to be mindful of is the ongoing issue of digging.
“If you crack one of these lines, that exposes the gas and the gas could ignite,” he said. “That’s the reason for ‘call before you dig’ that’s advertised.”
He said protections like corrosion prevention methods and odorizing different gasses are all safety measures to help the public quickly determine safety.
“Those gases don’t come with a smell on their own, the companies put that odor in the gas for the very reason that if you smell it, leave the area first and then call 911,” he said.
On Jan. 31, 2018, Noble County also experienced a natural gas transmission line incident caused reportedly by earth movement. That line, operated by Rockies Express Pipeline LLC cost $4,145,367 to remediate, though the event caused no fatalities nor injuries. The incident was one of seven incidents across the state reported in 2018.
In 2017, 20 incidents were reported, but none occurred within Washington, Noble, Monroe or Morgan counties.
On March 1, 2016, a materials/welding/equipment failure classified as a non-threaded connection failure was reported in Monroe County. The natural gas transmission line was also owned by Rockies Express Pipeline LLC but this incident did not include any fatalities nor injuries and total cost of remediation was $143,002.
This incident was the only one of 21 reported in Ohio in 2016 within the four-county region.
Stewart said the Rockies Express Pipeline, completed initially a decade ago to pipe in natural gas from the Rocky Mountain areas to Appalachia, has since seen a reversal of transmission now sending out natural gas from Appalachia westward.
In 2015, none of the 18 incidents reported in Ohio occurred within the four-county region.
On October 28, 2014, a fire or explosion was determined as the primary cause of an incident in Monroe County.
This pipeline, a hazardous liquid line, was operated by Blue Racer Midstream LLC, and though it caused no reported fatalities nor injuries, cost $396,158 to remediate.
This incident was the only one of 19 events reported in Ohio in 2014 which was located in the four-county region.
“Traditionally transmission lines, which can be two to four feet in diameter, are located in more rural areas to keep away from human activity and added risks,” said Stewart.
“And typically they follow the existing right of way areas companies already have to minimize disturbance.”
This use of existing right of way is why the hazardous liquid transmission line running north to south through Noble County’s eastern border runs along the same line as the gas line that exploded last month, he said.
By the Numbers
- 640.4 of Ohio’s 2,419 miles of transmission lines for oil and gas are located within Washington, Noble, Monroe and Morgan counties.
- 551.49 of those miles are used for gas transmission.
- 88.91 of those miles transmit hazardous liquids.
- The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio regulates the safety of these lines.